Camping Safari: Northern Tanzania

Here are some photographs from the safari my sister and I took before I returned to the US (I will add labels when I upload them to Facebook).  We did a 7 day camping safari through Base Camp Tanzania and had an AMAZING time!  The safari allowed us to camp in Tarangire NP, Lake Manyara NP, Serengeti NP and Ngorongoro Conservation area.  It was such an awesome experience…I will let the photos speak for themselves…

Please let me know if you would like any prints.

Rest Day – Around Arusha: Sue and I decided to take a walk and explore the villages in the mountains around our guesthouse.  What a great way to celebrate her birthday!

Around Arusha

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First Day in Tanzania 126-33

Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park

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Lake Manyara National Park:

Lake Manyara National Park 009-75 Lake Manyara National Park 010-76 Lake Manyara National Park 024-79 Lake Manyara National Park 031-81 Lake Manyara National Park 040-82 Lake Manyara National Park 050-85 Lake Manyara National Park 061-86 Lake Manyara National Park 089-89 Lake Manyara National Park 101-91 Lake Manyara National Park 106-92 Lake Manyara National Park 127-93 Lake Manyara National Park 131-94 Lake Manyara National Park 156-95 Lake Manyara National Park 185-97

Olduvai GorgeWhere 10,000 year old footprints were found
Serengeti National Park 019-2

Serengeti National ParkDay One

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Serengeti National ParkDay Two

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Serengeti National ParkDay Three

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Serengeti National ParkDay Four

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Ngorongoro Conservation AreaCamped on the rim of the crater

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Not Goodbye…

Kasoa 010-1

Hello All,

It has been some time since I have written a blog post which I apologize for.  So much has been happening here with the Day Star International School project that I haven’t had the time to sit down and write!  As promised, I want to use this post to give updates on the project and some thoughts I have had over the past few weeks.

DAY STAR ACADEMY PROJECT

::: Desks :::

This was the first part of the project which I started.  After picking up all the wood, cement and roofing sheets from the Kasoa market and being stopped by the police twice for bribes, we were able to deliver the wood to the carpenter to make the desks.  From cutting the wood to planing it, everything is by hand and it was really cool to watch these desks take shape.  Immediately, I took a liking to the carpenter because he was the first one not to ask for money upfront.  Apparently he is close with Hayford, the owner of the school and gave us a really good price to make the desks.  After three days, we had 12 beautiful new desks for the students.  Now there are enough desks for each student to sit comfortably in a proper sized desk.

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::: Roof :::

Before the desks were completed, I had another carpenter put on the missing sections of roof.  Not only does it make the building look more complete, but it keeps the students dry now that it is the rainy season.  We still have to put a roof on the toilet because there was a “misunderstanding” with this carpenter about the work that needed to be done.  I have since asked the desk carpenter to finish the bathroom roof and supporting structure.

Before

Before

Day Star Improvements & Senya DA 023-8 Day Star Improvements & Senya DA 037-10 Day Star Improvements 004-3 Day Star Improvements 005-4 Senya DA Primary 041-14

::: Blocks :::

Before we could reposition and paint the walls, we wanted to improve the concrete cinderblock around the school that makes up the base of the walls.  The classrooms previously without a roof had incomplete walls which were unsightly and didn’t keep out the rain.  We used five bags of cement to make blocks and raised all the walls to the same height.

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::: Paint :::

Paint was the easy part of this project.  Before we started, the desk carpenter volunteered to reposition the wooden planks that makeup the walls at the school.  They were mostly crooked with large gaps in between some of them.  Using excess wood that was removed to make room for more cinderblocks, we completed the walls to looks better, keep the rain out and to keep students focused instead of peeking out the cracks!

Day Star Academy PTA Meeting 006-2 Senya DA Primary 039-12 Day Star International School Photos 020-8 Day Star International School Photos 031-12 Day Star Improvements 009-3 Day Star Improvements 006-2

::: Other Projects ::

Farm

For months now I have wanted to start a farm.  Originally I wanted to do it for the parents of our sponsored students as an alternative income source.  This turned out too costly for the organization and needed much more support than it was capable of giving.  When I had my first meeting with the teachers of Day Star International School, one of them suggested a school garden or farm and I jumped at the chance!  Not only would it be able to teach kids skills to help provide for themselves, it is also something they can look at and feel proud about.   Everyone in the school has contributed in some way to the farm.  When I am working in Senya on weekends, kids will stop by and help without me even asking.  A lot of the time children who don’t even attend the school help out!  For the first year, we have planted maize, pepper, tomatoes and okra.  Hopefully this will all be added to the students lunches once harvest time comes!

Fence Builders

Fence Builders

Day Star Improvements 003-1

This is what we found after we cleared the bush!

This is what we found after we cleared the bush!

Weekend Workers

Weekend Workers

After some clean-up!

After some clean-up!

Sunday Clean-Up Crew

Sunday Clean-Up Crew

Seeds are sown!

Seeds are sown!

First maize sprout

First maize sprout

Food

Most schools in Ghana also provide lunch for their students.  The fees for this are collected as a separate ‘canteen fee’ in addition to the school fees.  In Day Star’s case, 70 pesewas out of 1 Cedi per day go to the feeding fee – think 70 cents from a dollar.  The other 30 pesewas go to the school fees. Canteens are usually managed by women who work as a separate entity from the school.  In this case, the women have been buying their supplies piecemeal from suppliers in Senya instead of buying in bulk at the Kasoa market.  Not only does this mess up the schools finances because they ask for money every day, but it costs almost double because they are buying in small quantities rather than at the market.  To put them on a level footing, I bought all the supplies they need for a month and told them that the school would only dispense funds at the end of each month based on the number of students who have ate.

Accounting

Throughout this whole process, I have been training Hayford on basic bookkeeping methods and how to better manage the schools money.  We set up a bank account for the school which only allows him to withdraw money with the signature of a colleague of mine here at CHF.  This puts come checks in the system so he is not able to spend the money freely as soon as he collects it.  It also allows us to see if he is depositing the money as often as he should and if any disappears from the time it is collected to the time he makes it to the bank.

Textbooks

Books were purchased on Monday for the entire school.  I was trying to get in touch with some distributors to see if I could get a better price for them but all the prices are pretty much the same after you factor in transportation.  Checking in on the classrooms today, I saw many of the students reading while they were on break.  It was such a good feeling to see this and receive a visual “thank you” after working non-stop this month to get everything together. 

Day Star 2

Seeing students skip their break to read makes it all worth it.

Seeing students skip their break to read makes it all worth it.

Teachers

For the past couple of months, I have been meeting with the current teachers to keep them informed on the changes with the school, asking for their input and evaluate how they fit into the long-term goals of the school.  In addition, I also organized a PTA meeting where a handful of involved parent and a few curious adults without kids came to the school to share their ideas and listen to our plans.  After observing for awhile and seeing how things run, Hayford and I decided to start looking for a couple of new teachers for next term.  We believe that there will be a significant increase in enrollment and that two of the current teachers are not fit to teach based on their performance and behavior.  We have started to interview new candidates and have scheduled times for them to give lessons so we can observe their ability in front of a class.

Senya DA Primary 038-11

Literacy

The adult literacy program that I had wanted to fund has been put on hold for now.  I believe that having textbooks and reading books in the school takes priority right now.  While the pieces are in place for the program to begin, the funding is just not there.  Hopefully in the coming months I can work to raise more funds and get this program running while I am back in the US.

OTHER HAPPENINGS

Before construction started on the school, my friend Kim from NJ came to visit.  I didn’t know it at the time but it was the last chance to relax that I would have for a month!  We went to Wli Falls and the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (second time for both) for her first excursion, and then to a beautiful beach in the Western Region for the second.  It was nice to have someone from back home visit and I just hope I showed her as much of Ghana as you can in one week!

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Teaching at DA Primary has been really fun this term.  I told my students on their first day back that this was the last couple of months I had with them and that I was going to challenge them unlike any other teacher they have.  Mostly I have been focusing on critical thinking skills using reading and writing comprehension activities.  At the beginning of each class I am confronted with a group of confused faces telling me that they don’t understand and that they can’t do it.  By the end of class I have a bunch of smiling students who have not only finished the assignment, but have usually done it better than they, or I, ever imagined.  Putting on little skits is there new favorite and it always guarantees a little fun by the end of class.  I am going to miss these kids more than anything else in Ghana.  They always have kept me grounded and make me forget about anything else going on even if they are being a pain in the butt!  I know that somehow, I will see some of them again.

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Like I mentioned earlier, I organized a PTA meeting before starting on the improvements to the school.  The big problem is Senya is that parents don’t value education.  This not only is bad for the kid’s chances of escaping poverty, but holds the parents back from improving their skills, businesses and lives.  While working with the Labour & Trafficking Project, I have been trying to get it to focus not only on the parents, but sensitize them to the importance of education, and how it can improve the situation for an entire family.  Organizing this meeting was part of that effort and taught me a lot about how parents interact with schools.  Firstly, I made the mistake of telling parents to get there when I actually wanted the meeting to start.  With people running on Ghana time, I should have told them to get there and hour before I wanted to start the meeting so they would all be on time.  Once we started, though, the meeting was very constructive.  They were excited about the changes being made to the school and were happy that they were being kept in the loop.  One thing that came out of the meeting was that the parents want the students to have Saturday classes.  The parents also were very understanding of the financial situation and how the school fees are broken up.

PTA Meeting

PTA Meeting

PTA Meeting

PTA Meeting

PTA Meeting

PTA Meeting

Summertime at CHF means that there are a lot of new volunteers.  This is part of the reason I stayed longer, to be able to train them, but it is also sad that I am leaving at a time of such great potential.  Having extra minds and bodies here to help with all the things I have been bogged down with for the past four months is really nice.  Much of the paper work that I have been putting off has been done and being able to ask for help on tasks really makes it easier  for me to focus on driving projects forward instead of being overcome with the details.  We are also lucky enough to have three Ghanaians interns here from the University of Ghana, Legon.  Not only are they motivated to learn and try different things, but they speak Twi.  We placed two of them in Day Star School to teach twice a week and they have been instrumental in making changes to how the school is run and report back to me about the status of the school/teachers.

University of Ghana Interns

University of Ghana Interns

June 12th was World Day Against Child Labour.  To observe this day, CHF organized four schools where we sponsor children to have an activity day.  We talked to them about the dangers and consequences of child labour and pitted the schools against each other to win a trophy.  The activities included ampe, musical chairs, sack races, lime and spoon races, fill the bottle and of course, football.  As expected, the main attraction was the football matches and they were very entertaining.  Some people were surprised with how competitive the children were in the other activities, but this was for a trophy, and better yet, bragging rights!  For prizes, we gave out story books to all the individual winners.  All schools received a participation certificate, and the winner, Methodist Memorial School, won the football match and the trophy.  It was a great day that the Labour & Trafficking team collaborated on and quickly put together after some volunteers/interns had only been here for a few days.

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If all this wasn’t enough, we also held a couple of Labour & Trafficking informational talks at schools.

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THOUGHTS

(Written June 1, 2013)

This past week I feel like I am back in the swing of things.  Items are constantly being crossed off my “To Do” list and days are full with various appointments for my projects.  If you follow this blog, you read that I am raising money for a roof, desks and paint for Day Star Academy and hopefully for an adult education program.  Fundraising has been going well and I am eager to have the workers start on the improvements.  This week I personally paid for some of the land in the schoolyard to be cleared so we can begin our school farm.  It is the rainy season which means time is of the essence for farming and we can’t wait any longer to plant the seeds.  I think I am feeling good again because these are my projects which I have thought of and put the wheels in motion.  In recent months, I allowed myself to become distracted and was waiting for approval or for support in this organization.  I strayed from what I love doing, from what I am good at which is making things happen and figuring it out along the way.  For some reason I stopped doing that here, of all places, and I couldn’t figure out why I felt like I was in such a funk.  Now I am back doing what I love in the way that I love.  Being out consulting with people, making plans and overcoming obstacles is what I have been missing.  I can’t sit in an office and make things happen.  Not at this job at least.  Do I completely know what I am doing?  Not a chance.  Do I think I will be successful and will reach my end goal?  There is no doubt in my mind.  This is how I have lived my life until this point.  Whether it was Colorado or Africa, I didn’t know how I would do things or how I would get there, I just knew I would.

I don’t know what the reason is why I strayed from my bullish attitude.  I like to think that I needed to absorb more Ghanaian life and culture in order for me to understand what needs to be done, in which order and how to go about it.  Meeting with people now seems more fluid than ever.  They usually laugh at me because I speak and negotiate like a Ghanaian with a little more of an American, enough with the bullshit, attitude.  The other day I even corrected a Ghanaian with their Twi!  That one made everyone laugh and one extremely embarrassed Ghanaian!  I can now see the needs and how people shy away from addressing them.  Maybe it is because they don’t know how or because they are embarrassed of them.  Either way, the feedback I get when I share my ideas has been wonderful.  Some of the best ideas have come from the locals, which is the way it should be.  I’ve made a conscious effort to allow them to “own” these projects and remind them that I am only here to give them a little nudge in the right direction and assure them that they can make anything possible.

(Written June 17, 2013)

Sunday marked two weeks left here in Ghana.  It has been strange trying to comprehend that I am leaving after making this my home for 9 months.  Each day I can think of so many reasons why I need to stay longer.  From continuing to help the school operate better, guiding the new volunteers with the Labour & Trafficking Project or just being able to remain here with my adopted family I have so many things I want to stay for.  When I break it down, there would never be a time that I couldn’t stay here to do more on the project or for the school.  Knowing that, I feel that it is time to go home, see my family and start on a new adventure while keeping tabs on what I have set-up in Ghana.  Sometime in the next couple of years I know that I will return to see the people who are so dear to me and check in on Day Star School and my students.  Until then, I have to trust the structure I put in place to keep the school running well and the people who will look after it while I’m not here.  I’m excited to see my family and rest after going non-stop this entire month.

(Written June 24, 2013)

Yesterday marked one week left and I celebrated the day by doing a lot, A LOT, of laundry…by hand of course.  While I can’t say I will miss that at all, I have been seeing and thinking about all the people and things I will truly miss.  Like I have talked about many times, the people who I have met here changed my world in so many ways.  Especially my students and the children who I interact with often, there is a special place in my heart for them and all the lessons they have taught me.  When I told them about my last day teaching, they didn’t get upset, they were mad!  “You mean you won’t come back?”  “Ohhh why Sir John?!”  That has made it a little harder to think about leaving because my class really does have a special bond with each other.  They know in my classroom that they are not allowed to make fun of or laugh at each other and that they are all challenged no matter how advanced or behind they are academically.  Not only that, but I feel like they are very comfortable in my class because they know I won’t cane them and take time to work through tough questions or explain why answers are wrong.  Certainly, one of the hardest parts about leaving Ghana will be leaving these students.

Day Star Academy PTA Meeting 033-7 Senya DA Primary 005-1 Senya DA Primary 047-16 Senya DA Primary 057-19 Day Star Improvements & Senya DA 029-9 Day Star Improvements 012-4 Day Star International School Photos 024-10 Day Star International School Photos 029-11 Senya 005-3

For the past few weeks my emotions and thoughts have been swirling.  Because there has been so much going on with the Day Star School project and 12 new volunteers, I haven’t had much time or space to sit down, process everything and clear my head.  During these weeks I have been through just about every feeling in the book and back again.  Some things have made me the most frustrated and angry I have ever been here, and there have been times of pure joy and feeling that this is my home and I shouldn’t be leaving.  The past few days I have been forcing myself to start closing things up with my activities and in my mind.  I love Ghana, as truly wonderful and fucked up as it is (what place isn’t?).  In my heart I know I will be back again soon to visit the many people who have opened their hearts and minds to me during my stay and have become my family.  For now though, I am mentally, emotionally, physically and whatever else kind of exhausted.  Writing about how I feel and the end of this experience seems daunting right now and I promise that I will write about it soon when I have a clear head and a nourished body. It’s time to see my family, sit around the dinner table and laugh until my stomach hurts.  Go on this safari with my sister and celebrate our birthdays with some lions and elephants.  Catch a ballgame with my brother and drink a beer that will stay cold for more than 5 minutes.  The rest will work itself out…

L&T Talk - Ebenezer Memorial School Nynayno 056-2

I miss and love you all,

Kwame

Final Push For Our School…Please Help!

Dear Family, Friends and Interested Acquaintances,

Thank you for all of your outreach so far! I have been overwhelmed with your support and kind words. For those of you who would still like to donate, I am collecting money until June 3, 2013. After that, construction will begin and I will be blogging about the progress.  Any additional money raised will be used to sustain an adult literacy program for two years, textbooks for Day Star Academy and a small library with story books for the children.  If you did not read my previous post, please take a look here.

Much Love,
John
Day Star Academy - Senya Beraku, Ghana

Day Star Academy – Senya Beraku, Ghana

Day Star Academy - Incomplete

Day Star Academy – Incomplete

Classroom

Classroom

Classroom That Only has Half the Needed Desks

Classroom That Only has Half the Needed Desks

Toilet

Toilet

To My Friends: I Kindly Ask For Your Help

Day Star Academy - Senya Beraku, Ghana

Day Star Academy – Senya Beraku, Ghana

Dear Family, Friends and Interested Acquaintances,

For the past seven months I have been living in Kasoa, Ghana, working with a small Ghanaian NGO, Cheerful Hearts Foundation (CHF), whose main mission is to rescue children sold into labor in fishing communities by their families who are too poor to feed, clothe and house them. CHF rescues these children, returns them to their families and pays for their schooling so that the youth of Ghana have the opportunity to break the chain of poverty that causes their families to make such tragic and unhappy decisions. The project has opened my eyes to a world of exploitation and slavery which is commonplace in developing countries but rarely heard about or understood in the developed world. Through countless interviews, days teaching, conversations with strangers and my travels around Ghana, I have begun to see the issue more clearly and understand its causes.

One of the schools CHF supports with volunteers like myself is the Day Star Academy in Senya Beraku, a fishing community where child trafficking is very prevalent. CHF sponsors 13 students at the school and I have formed a close relationship with the students, teachers and headmaster/owner. It is at this school that I organized a cleanup day and where I have been working with the headmaster to minimize their costs and increase their revenue while maintaining a focus on the quality of education offered. Currently the school has about 120 students, 80 of which attend on a regular basis. While Day Star Academy needs more students (school fees) to help boost their ability to purchase supplies, the building is incomplete and rather unsightly. Two of the classrooms don’t have a roof and there are about 30 students without desks. In class 3, the small girls pack 4 people into a desk that is meant for 2. The bathroom is an outdoor pit and also lacks a roof which is even more important now that we have entered the rainy season. Pictures below.

Since my time in Ghana is rapidly coming to an end (at the end of June), I am determined to raise the money needed to complete the school’s roof, the outdoor bathroom roof and purchase enough desks for the current students at Day Star Academy. This would provide such a positive boost for the school and the students and would remind them that there are people around the world who want them to succeed in making a better life for themselves and their families. My goal is to raise $1,000 which will provide:

15 Desks = $221 (approx. 420 Ghana Cedis)

  • Wood – $10.52 per desk ($158)
  • Nails – $16
  • Carpenter – $3.15 per desk ($47)

Roof = $295 (approx. 560 Ghana Cedis)

  • 40 Corrugated Tin Roofing Sheets = $190 (Package of 20 roofing sheets cost $95)
  • Labour cost = $105 (Will renegotiate for a lower price)

Aesthetics = $221 (approx. 420 Ghana Cedis)

  • Plaster – 10 buckets @ $9.47 each ($95)
  • Paint – 4 cans @ $18.42 each ($74)
  • Labour $52

Total = $737 or 1,400 Ghana Cedis
*All calculations use the conversion of $1USD = 1.90 Ghana Cedis which is variable.

I plan to use the remaining $263 or 500 Ghana Cedis to purchase some important items identified by the staff when we held a meeting: security at the school (classroom doors), 2 chalkboards, start up money for a school farm to help reduce costs associated with feeding children, textbooks, storybooks and help with an adult literacy program to assist parents advance their own education while re-prioritizing their child’s schooling.

The extra money will also give Cheerful Hearts Foundation a little buffer for changes in the exchange rate, and unseen expenses associated with the building improvements. After careful consideration, I have devised two ways of getting the money to me so I can accomplish this project before leaving Ghana:

  1. Personal check: For those of you who are not concerned with receiving a tax deduction for your donation, I recommend sending a personal check made out to me to my parent’s house. This will bypass all costs of transferring money to Ghana because they will just deposit the money in my checking account and I can withdraw 100% of it at an ATM in Ghana.
  2. GlobalGiving.org (http://goto.gg/8910): Cheerful Hearts Foundation has a page for our “Stop Child Labour & Trafficking” project on this website. While Global Giving takes 15% of your donation, you will be able to print a receipt for your tax records. Please email me with the date and amount of your donation so I can confirm to my boss that the money was donated for this specific project.

Suggested Donations:
• $25: 2 Desks or 5 Roofing Sheets
• $50: 10 Roofing Sheets or 5 Buckets of Plaster
• $100: 7 Desks or Doors for all Classrooms
• $250: 15 Desks with Exercise Books for all Students
• $500: Complete Roof and Desks for all Students
• $1,000: A completed school and the eternal gratitude of 120 Ghanaian children and myself!

Needless to say, all the money I spend will be accounted for with receipts and photographs. When I return home in July, I will be more than happy to show you exactly where your money was spent and the impact it has made.

Please contact me, JFire13@gmail.com if you would like more information on the project or if you have any suggestions! I encourage you to pass this post along to anyone you know who might be interested in supporting these projects!

Thank you for your support!

Much love,
John

Day Star Academy - Incomplete

Day Star Academy – Incomplete

Classroom

Classroom

Classroom That Only has Half the Needed Desks

Classroom That Only has Half the Needed Desks

Toilet

Toilet

No Words

No words for the past two weeks, but here are some pictures…

Karen's Farewell Fufu Party

Karen’s Farewell Fufu Party

Returning End-of-Term Exams

Returning End-of-Term Exams

Frank is Happy

Frank is Happy

Returning End-of-Term Exams

Returning End-of-Term Exams

Priscilla is Happy

Priscilla is Happy

Burst Pipe = Close Water Source

Burst Pipe = Close Water Source

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term - Treats for the Class

Last Day of Term – Treats for the Class

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

Last Day of Term

My Best Student, Josephine

My Best Student, Josephine

Josephine's Family

Some of Josephine’s Family

Container Store Improvement Sponsored by past CHF Volunteer

Container Store Improvement Sponsored by past CHF Volunteer

Container Store Improvement Sponsored by past CHF Volunteer

Container Store Improvement Sponsored by past CHF Volunteer

Laundry Day Wounds

Laundry Day Wounds

Point Hope 001-1

Full Moon at the House

Full Moon at the House

Helping a Nutrition Program

Helping a Nutrition Program

Point Hope 005-3

Measurements

Measurements

Feeding Program

Feeding Program

Point Hope 035-16

The Hat is Serious...it was Cold!

The Hat is Serious…it was “Cold”!

“It’s Not Easy…”

Kasoa 005-1
Hello All,

This past three weeks has been a very mixed bag regarding achievements and emotions. It is hard to believe that April 2 was exactly six months here in Ghana. During my time I have met some of the best people on this planet and experienced things that I never expected. To say that this adventure has been life changing would be an understatement. Because of these feelings, I have decided to stay for three months following the end of my volunteer term which expired on April 1. Working the extra three months will allow me to better establish the projects I have started and train incoming volunteers in June about the Labour & Trafficking project and the new initiatives. I also want to say that I haven’t forgotten all the people who have offered their support for my projects. In the coming weeks I will be reaching out to all of you asking for your help with financing some projects I have created. Please contact me via email JFire13@gmail.com or on Facebook if you already haven’t done so and are interested in helping!

TEACHING

Three weeks ago the public school teachers in Ghana went on strike for salary issues. Public servants were recently put on a “single spine” salary system and some of the bonuses that were promised to the teachers have not been delivered. When I first arrived at Senya DA Primary to teach, the classrooms were open but the teachers were not teaching and most of the students had gone home. Fortunately I was able to teach a handful of my students who had hung around. The next day I went to Senya expecting the same deal, open building but no lessons. Instead I found that the building was locked and only a few students from the whole school were still in the compound. Four of those students were from my class and I told them that if they wanted to stick around, I would teach. One of the boys looked at me and said, “How will you teach with no chalk?!” I had to laugh! Because of the casual atmosphere of holding a class outside on the steps, I just had them tell me a story about their favorite experience or holiday with their families. This was not as easy as I thought it would be for them. None of them could tell me any stories or memories and would only give me their detailed family history. It made me wonder if they really didn’t have any fond memories with their family or it wasn’t something that they think about or value. After our little “lesson” I visited the houses of my two best students. Since I started teaching here I could always notice a lack of confidence by the students and stories of a home life that doesn’t value education. I wanted to tell these parents that their children were excellent students who could do anything they want if they continue learning with the passion they have shown in my class. More importantly, I wanted to try and give the parents a sense of pride about their children’s accomplishments in school. The public school teachers strike lasted through the next week which meant no teaching for me. Since school has resumed, classes have been wonderful. This past week I was giving my final lesson of the term before the go on vacation for a few weeks. Because the students were preparing to write exams, the rooms had been arranged differently. In the room I teach in, the partition that separates my class and the neighboring class was removed. Their teacher was not conducting a lesson so the entire class was listening and participating in my English lesson. It was nice to have different responses and my students enjoyed having the older kids involved with their lesson.

Locked Out

Locked Out

Locked Out

Locked Out

Locked Out

Locked Out

Locked Out

Locked Out

Combined Classes

Combined Classes

The other school I teach in, Nali High International School is private and therefore was not involved in the teacher strike. Right now, my students are preparing for their upcoming final exams which will determine if they go to senior high school and if so, which one. Over the past few weeks I reviewed their pitiful mock English exams with them and have really been focusing on reading comprehension. Their mock English exam scores ranged from 50-68% which is terrible but they only need a 70% to be considered excellent. Their scores on the overall test that included all subjects ranged from 11-72%. After reading some of their answers, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that some of these students are doomed. It is a terrible feeling when you realize this even though the student(s) try hard in class and you can tell that they are just not good at taking exams. This depressed feeling carried over to the next week when I was attempting to conduct a reading comprehension lesson with only one book for six students. I looked at the class and said, “This is ridiculous! I am buying new books for all of us by next week.” I don’t know if they were scared, shocked or both but they certainly showed that no teacher had ever bought them a book to use in class. Since then, the English classes have been a joy to teach and I am not struggling to have the class read a story with one book and then for me to dictate the questions to them. Teaching them to use a passage to find the answers is something they have never done but it seems that they are realizing how easy questions can be if you just take the time to find the answer. Like in my other class, there is one student who continues to make it all worth it. She reads very well and can write full stories with ease. It’s hard to see how demoralized and unmotivated she is because there has never been a teacher or individual pushing her, or the other students, to achieve more than they think is possible. I wish I had more time with these students before their exam and I wish that their school and teachers hadn’t given up on them. All I can do now is try to build their literacy skills and confidence and hope it can translate into improved scores on the exam. If not, at least the skills and their belief in themselves will stick with them after they are done schooling.

LABOUR & TRAFFICKING

The past few weeks on the Child Labour &Trafficking project has been a lot of information gathering. While we are still interviewing children who have been trafficked and their families, we noticed that a lot of children have returned to Yeji or we already identified and interviewed most of them in the Senya community. Also, now that the village is familiar with CHF and our interviews/sponsorships we have encountered more and more people who give us false stories in hopes that we will give them money. Some of it is so bad that I can tell people are lying to us even though I can’t understand the language. As a result, we are going to slow down the amount of interviews we are conducting to ensure quality over quantity. I also suggested that we move to the other towns we sponsor students in and reevaluate the trafficking situation there. If nothing else, it will show the community and fishermen that we are still there and still working on this issue. After one of the interviews, we revisited a girl who we interviewed last year. A former Ghanaian volunteer would like to sponsor her to go to school and allow the girl to live in her house so she can help with the family business and taking care of the children. I asked around and this is normal for Ghana. As long as she is going to school and not strenuously working or spending too much time watching the children, I think it is a good idea.
L&T Interview 012-2

L&T Interview 020-3

An initiative I have been trying to work on to improve the Labour & Trafficking project is to establish some kind of apprenticeship or training program. In the past three weeks I have been going to observe and evaluate training programs which are offered by the Ghana Education Services Non-Formal Education Division. They all seem to be well run but each face their own different problem. The first is a dressmaking course that teaches women to be seamstresses. It is a three year program but the women need to provide their own sewing machine and tuition. This could easily reach 1,000 Ghana Cedis ($500 USD) which is an enormous amount of money in Senya Beraku. While I was meeting with the supervisor of this program, she introduced me to the facilitator for a training program in catering. This is a two year program where the women learn how to do large scale catering events like weddings and funerals, which are huge in Ghana, and also the traditional decorations for them. This past week I went to find out about an English training course. It seems like a wonderful FREE program except no one attends it! The course is six hours every week and they provide exercise books, training materials and story books for the advanced students. The facilitator also told me that the government has not given the incentives which were promised to the teachers for two years. They are not cash incentives but rather material things like cement, bicycles, sewing machines, roofing sheets, etc. I told him that I can’t provide him with any kind of money or gifts but I can go to the government office and try to put a little more pressure on them to deliver on their promises. Like most things in Ghana that deal with the government, I don’t have high expectations that this will be resolved quickly or at all. In the meantime, Freeman and I will compile a list of candidates who we think would be good for these programs and present the idea to them. For the free English and Fantse (local language) literacy programs, we will enroll those who are interested immediately.

A month or two ago my main focus was setting up a demonstration farm to teach the parents of our sponsored children. They would learn how to farm and be able to raise crops on their own beds to help feed their family and sell on the market. Ideally, this would alleviate some financial strain so they would be able to send more of their children to school instead of Yeji to fish. After meeting with the sub-chief about acquiring 40 acres of land, we realized that even 5 acres was going to be too expensive for our budget. Now, I would like to try and renegotiate with the sub-chief because I don’t think our local coordinator presented the idea to him properly. After discussing it with the coordinator, it sounds like he told the sub-chief that we want to buy the land so we can work it when in reality CHF would not profit from it at all. The hard part is that these chiefs always say they are working for the members of their community but it seems that is only true when there is money to be made from the deal. I want to put pressure on him and the other elders to show them how we are doing this for the people in their community who truly need assistance. Hopefully they can prove that they are really working to better the lives of the people who they represent.
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Senya DA Primary 041-1

TRAVEL

Over the past few weekends I have gone to an Easter celebration on a local beach, two beach resorts and a place called Wli (pronounced vlee) Agorviefe where there is a spectacular waterfall, Wli Falls. On Easter Monday, Ghanaians like to go party on the beach. We organized some people and food and went to a local beach I like to visit during the week. Typically I am the only one on the beach but for this day, there had to be at least 20,000 people there…absolutely crazy. It was great being with so many Ghanaians celebrating in their own way with music, food, drinks, and plenty of dancing. At Wli Falls, two new volunteers and I took a hike to the upper falls which was really beautiful and secluded; exactly what I needed after not being able to take a legit hike in over six months. We also stopped by the monkey sanctuary which I had been to before so they could check it out. The beaches were nice relaxing weekends, one with a new volunteer and the other with Victoria and two new volunteers. It is always hard coming back to Kasoa after these weekends!
Wli Falls 017-5

Upper Wli Falls

Upper Wli Falls

Upper Wli Falls

Upper Wli Falls

Upper Wli Falls

Upper Wli Falls

Lower Wli Falls

Lower Wli Falls

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Wli Falls 015-2

GHANA

In Ghana I have had a lot of conversations about religion. I have also dodged a lot of conversations and questions about religion. A few weeks ago I was in Senya one evening trying to observe the English training class. It turned out that they were on a break that week and I would have to wait to hear from the coordinator. Instead Hayford, our local coordinator, and I went to get a drink. Normally I am in Senya from 10am till 2pm. That day I had gone in the evening because of the class and by the time we got to the spot (bar) it was 5pm. To me, Senya has always been a hot miserable place where I only get glimmers of hope from a few individuals. That evening showed me a different side of Senya, away from the trafficked and depressed children I am in constant contact with. There was a cool breeze coming off the ocean and the fading sun had painted the sky orange and pink. Because of the teachers strike, kids were everywhere laughing and playing and as usual, there was the loud distorted highlife and azonto music which has become the soundtrack of my stay in Ghana flowing into the streets from shops and houses. Two friends joined us at the spot where we began discussing our vision for Hayfords school (the one I organized the cleanup day at). Hayford is a rare find in Ghana. Because of the entrenched poverty in Senya, school fees are collected every morning from the children, about one Ghana Cedi (50 cents). This covers their day at school and a basic lunch. What has impressed me is that Hayford would rather a student come to school and learn than kick them out of school, sack them, for missing school fees. He even has a handful of students who can’t pay but he knows they want to be in school. A lot of the schools I have visited seem to focus more on the money than their real purpose, empowerment through education. After talking about what needs to be done to complete the school building and how to review their finances so teachers’ salaries aren’t delayed, I discussed how I can help and what I expect from the staff and administration. The conversation soon turned to religion when Hayford asked me, “How can a guy who gives as much as you do not believe in god?” I couldn’t help but laugh! After discussing my beliefs or non-beliefs with the group I was amazed at how respectful they were about the things I was saying. I could tell that they didn’t agree with them, but usually I get such strong pushback when it comes to religion that it was nice, for once, to just see them nodding and asking more questions. At one point I compared Hayford with myself. We both believe in education and the power it holds. Both of us believe that you should have access to an education no matter what economic class you were born into and that there are enough resources to educate everyone if we become creative with how we run the school or education system. Similarly, we both think it is worth sacrificing personal wealth or luxuries to make education possible for those who are not in the position to pay for food and education at the same time. I then posed the question, “Why does it matter what I believe in or who I pray to if we are striving to achieve the same thing and try to live our lives as genuinely good people?” The three of them seemed stumped by this. For the first time, I didn’t hear “Because you have to give you life to Christ.” I’m not trying to tell them that their beliefs are wrong or they should believe in what I do but rather I am trying to encourage a tolerance for other beliefs and ways of life. This beautiful evening in a foreign place with amazing friends and such positive energy helped me push away all the clutter in my mind and refocus on what can get done in the coming months.

THOUGHTS

Like I mentioned in the opening, April 2, 2013 marked six months here in Ghana. To say it has all been easy would be a complete lie. Six months kind of crept up on me and when I realized how long it has been it opened a floodgate of thoughts and feelings. I think it is fair to say that working in the education field and dealing with severely impoverished communities in the developing world is a pretty thankless job most of the time. If it weren’t for the small victories, achievements or interactions each day, I would be absolutely crazy by now. That said, it’s hard to stay focused on what’s possible when the complexity of poverty is something you can’t fully wrap your head around. It’s hard to keep progressing and staying positive when you are inundated with terrible situations, problems, frustrating experiences and people all while trying to maintain a life away from work. It’s hard to deal with people asking for handouts and harassing you day in and day out. Most of all, it’s hard to keep grinding on when you can’t even tell if the individuals you are directly helping are thankful. All of these seem more manageable if there was some kind of support to go along with it. With such a small organization and no other volunteers working on the Labour & Trafficking project with me, there is no one to discuss these issues with or help with project ideas. Not only that but being one of two volunteers who has been here longer than two months puts you in a world of you own. Things are no longer new and no one can really relate to what I have already experienced. Sometimes I laugh because I can see myself in the things the new volunteers do or see but there is no one to share that with or laugh with me. Six months hit and I just felt tired. Tired of being “on” every second of the day. Tired of giving my all to something without any support and without seeing many results. Tired of sweating 24 hours a day, constantly being dirty and waking up to scratch one of my 10 mosquito bites. Tired of the extreme ups and downs which seem to drain you every other day. Tired of not being able to help people who don’t have any support system. Tired of all the external stresses while trying to navigate a relationship with someone special. Tired of being tired.

Ok. Enough complaining…

Around the six month mark something changed. Riding back in a tro-tro from another weekend at the beach, I was looking out the window as usual but everything looked different. It was no longer this crazy, loud, dirty foreign land. I knew where I was. I understand a lot of the conversation around me and feel like I can relate to others because of my experiences and the people I work with. Driving back to Kasoa was, at least for a moment, peaceful. It looked beautiful. It felt like home. While I am constantly reminded that I am an outsider and don’t always feel at home, this was a great feeling to have at such a time.

Even though I feel like I have a lot of arbitrary things to complain about sometimes, I still feel tremendously fortunate. I worked my ass off to get here and have been rewarded with a life changing experience full of new wonderful people, places and perspectives. On top of that, I seem to spend each weekend in a literal paradise whether it is a beach, mountain, rainforest, or barren savannah land. Eventually, I am always reminded of the reasons I am here. Most recently it was from a man named Ahmed. He is the English training class’s facilitator who I mentioned earlier that hasn’t received any kind of compensation for two years. When I spoke with him I could still feel his passion and dedication for teaching his community members. The fact that he hasn’t been paid was only brought up after I was prodding him for more information about the program and how the government sponsors it. He was genuinely upset that attendance in the class was abysmal and wanted to know if I could help to improve it. Speaking to individuals like him and his supervisor who are quietly working on these vital programs is the fuel I need to keep going. There are plenty of nameless and faceless people out there who are selflessly working for others. Finding one and interacting with them is the best gift I could ever receive.

Another Wonderful Individual, Miriam

Another Wonderful Individual, Miriam

I have to take a moment to thank my family for being so supportive especially in the last six or seven months. Although you guys aren’t here, your thoughts and ideas have influenced a lot of lives through my work in Ghana. Sometimes it is hard to get in contact with each other but I cherish those short late night phone calls I make or waking you up, Sue, early in the morning. At times being this far has been hard and I really miss you all. Thank you for being there and giving me the support and advice I need.

I miss and love you all,
John

An Imperfect Paradise

Kasoa Sunset
Hello All,

Last week I was mainly focused on teaching and the education system here in Ghana.  I firmly believe that education can give you the skills you need to end the cycle of poverty in your family, even if it takes a few generations.  However, when this system is dysfunctional or overwhelmed, it can be extremely frustrating!

TEACHING

Last week was challenging.  It was challenging for me to remain calm and patient.  It was challenging for me not to lecture an assistant headmaster for his incompetence.  It was challenging for me not to scream because a library which was donated had not been used in over a month.  Through all of this, I learned that my patience level has reached a new high and that you can’t allow yourself to get worked up about systemic problems in the past which you can’t control.  Most of my frustration stemmed from teaching at Nali School, the one with a money/teacher shortage.  During a math lesson, I had to keep backtracking through skills that should have been learned already by the students.  They are at the equivalent of the 9th grade and I had to explain how  is equal to 0.5 for about ten minutes.  This was in the middle of a lesson about solving different types of equations which will be on their upcoming exams.  Never mind solving equations, they need to know how fractions work first!  When I returned later in the week, I was not able to teach that class because of a scheduling conflict with another teacher (no one informed me about the change).  Instead, I went into the JHS 1&2 class which has no teacher.  They were supposed to be in their “English Self-Study” class but were mostly sleeping.  I decided that we should go to the new library which I wrote about in a blog a month ago.  Not surprisingly, it was locked and covered in dust/dirt.  When I looked at the check-out log, there hadn’t been a book checked-out in over a month.  This was extremely disappointing especially since they all were excited to be in the library and rushed to grab storybooks.

Senya wasn’t too far behind last week in disappointments.  During one of my days teaching there, I checked on one of our students who hadn’t been coming to school because there was no teacher.  The student still wasn’t in the school and there was no instructor for the class, even after we had spoke to the assistant headmaster about it.  When I walked in the room to check on the student, the class got up and cheered thinking that I had come to teach them.  “You have come to teach us!” one boy exclaimed.  I felt like I had no choice but teach them for a little bit.  We did a fun little exercise in English and quickly organized a dance competition between some students before I left.  Classes with no teacher are becoming a trend in my experience here and I don’t know what is worse, a class with no teacher or a student who is not coming to school at all.  My only saving grace last week was during a lesson in Senya where I used bananas as a prize for the best students of the day.  After giving them all out I noticed that every child who received one would share it with everyone around them.  I’m pretty sure that by the end of class, every student had a piece of banana.  How they all shared without even thinking about it really made me happy and kept a smile on my face the rest of the day.

Senya DA Primary

LABOUR & TRAFFICKING

Last week I wasn’t able to get much done on the Labour & Trafficking project.  Like I mentioned in my last post, after discussing the farm plans with Eric, CHF’s executive Director, the cost of the land is too high for us.  Ideally I would like to negotiate with the chiefs in the area to reconsider their price or work out some kind of deal with us so the community can benefit from the thousands of acres of unused land.  If that won’t be possible, I have ideas about partnering with another organization or reaching out to land owners who need assistance cultivating their land.  Before I make any more plans with the project, I am focusing on some of the other initiatives that I proposed so I can get some of that up and running.

TRAVEL

Last weekend was spent in paradise or a beach resort in Cape 3 Points.  It is the southernmost point in Ghana and claims the most pristine beaches in the country, which I will vouch for.  You are surrounded by a forest preserve and large rubber and palm plantations.  The closest town has about 300 residents and there is not much else besides that.  A truly beautiful place…

PERSONAL PROJECT

Last Wednesday I organized a school cleanup day in Senya Beraku for Day Star Academy which is a school where CHF sends a handful of sponsored children.  The owner of the school, Hayford, is also our local coordinator who I have built a great friendship with.  Each week I typically run over there to say hello and set up our plan for interviews and other business for the week.  I’ve become close with the teachers and students and have taken a personal interest in improving the school partly because of the dedication of the staff and partly because of how well behaved the children are (about 90 students).  The school building itself is very new and still under construction with missing roofing sheets and rudimentary scrap wood walls.  The classrooms have dirt floors and the bathroom is a group of bushes about 30 yards from the building.  Some of the classes don’t have enough desks for all the students, forcing them to sit on the floor, while in others the students squish three or sometimes four student into a desk made for two.  Needless to say, there is a lot of work to be done which will require a good amount of capital which is especially hard to raise in an impoverished community like Senya Beraku.

One thing that has bothered me since I arrived in Ghana is the amount of trash strewn everywhere, particularly the black plastic bags.  The schoolyard at Day Star Academy was no exception.  Small thorny bushes cover the yard and are perfect for snagging plastic bags and other debris blown in by the ocean breeze.  Each time I walked over to the school, I would cringe at how much garbage was laying around and how the children usually congregated on a dirt patch instead of playing on the trash covered grass.  Like most other places in Ghana, there is no waste bin in sight, and the small amount of garbage that is collected is burned a few meters from the classrooms.  About two weeks ago I told Hayford that I wanted to have a school cleanup day and that I would provide the school with a waste bin and a recycling bin for their water rubbers which can be traded in for money (think 5 cent return for a soda can).  He thought it was a great idea and told me that I just needed to pick a day and time.

We decided on last Wednesday and I made arrangements with the school canteen to have enough snacks and water for all the students and the teachers.  I also gave Hayford money to buy the waste bins because I knew he would be able to get a better price for them than I would.  When I introduced the idea to the students, their reaction was mixed between excitement, blank stares and probably some confusion.  I know some were excited because I told them that the money raised from recycling the water rubbers would go to buying footballs, textbooks and other school materials.  When I arrived on Wednesday morning, I was surprised by how prepared everyone was.  There was a pile of about 10 cutlasses (machetes) which the boys brought to help weed the schoolyard.  They were outside sharpening them when I arrived and I could tell they were anxious to get started.  Some of the girl had brought rakes and the neighboring mechanic was happy to loan his for a few hours.  After assembling the school outside and splitting them into different groups, we let them loose on the yard.  The youngest kids were the infantry, responsible for picking all of pieces of garbage and water rubbers from the ground.  The older kids were responsible for weeding, raking and any other more labour intensive tasks.  The little kids turned out to be AMAZING!  They were garbage picking machines and their youthful energy kept them going for about an hour and a half.  They would even run over and take the garbage out of my hands as soon as I picked it.  After awhile they were making me feel lazy because I didn’t have to walk anywhere to throw it away!  The older kids knew what they wanted, a football field, and what needed to be done to make this a reality.  The teachers were pretty active in supervising and I could tell that they were enjoying themselves, even if only because they were out of the classroom.  By the end, everyone was dirty, sweaty, tired, thirsty, but most of all happy with a sense of accomplishment.  After washing their hands, the students lined up to receive the bananas, sweet buds (doughnuts) and water I had bought for everyone.  The end result was a huge pile of garbage which we, unfortunately, had to burn.  I absolutely hate this but there is no money for collection and if we didn’t burn it, it would have all blown back by the end of the day!  The students were proud of their clean schoolyard and the waste bins which they were eager to use.  Overall, it was an amazing day.  The energy those kids smiles gave me kept me going all week.  They kept thanking me but I couldn’t take any of the credit.  The students and teachers were the ones who took charge in cleaning up their own school and created some school and personal pride.  All I did was to give them the idea and basic tools which made this possible.  All for under $20 USD….

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Day Star Academy Cleanup Day 058-16

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Day Star Academy Cleanup Day 011-2

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I miss and love you all,

John